These things you think are precious
Everything this week has been so pretty I can hardly stand it, so I headed out to somewhere a little grittier. One of the things I like about Florida is that there are still so many places where industry happens. So often it seems that cities have been prettied up and all the stuff that made them grow is hidden as far from the city as possible. In Gainesville, the university may be the largest business, but there are still industrial areas within town.
Cement manufacturing operations always intrigue me, with their conveyor belts and mountains of rock. Although they are not built to admire, each part of the process, from the crushers to the silos to the conveyor belts, has its own appeal. The cement itself is the basis for concrete, which is essential to almost everything we build, from the sidewalks we walk on to the homes we live in and the buildings we work in. Without concrete, many of the buildings that we take for granted now simply could not be built, and many others could not be built so cheaply or sturdily.
Power plants are likewise essential services that are often hidden far from the center of the city. They are often quite interesting buildings, but the one in downtown Gainesville is even more attractive than most. What began as a small power plant has been thoughtfully added to over the years, to become both beautiful and useful. This area is currently undergoing a fairly successful redevelopment effort.
Florida architecture is often quite different from that found in much of the country. Because much of the state was not really well-populated until after the advent of air conditioning, there was a building boom in the 1950s that is evident in both the homes and the businesses. Concrete was a relatively new building material that happens to be very well-suited to the Florida climate, both for insulation and for its ability to withstand windstorms. This building is made of concrete block and has a wonderful concrete screen in front. These concrete screens were often placed in front of porches or large windows to reduce direct sunlight, but allow ambient light in. They can be found in many different designs, some of which are quite unusual and interesting. Unfortunately, they were used frequently on small concrete block houses in uninspired ways, and are often seen as cheap now.
Sometimes I am stopped by something I see that reminds me of a lesson I learned in school. One of my professors always warned us to think of how the corner will be rounded. It is true that corners need to be considered carefully when designing a building, because they can really change the whole feeling of a project. Often, different sides of the same building must be built differently to allow light in on one side, but not another, yet it all must be integrated. Even when all sides have similar materiality, it is a very different thing if they meet in a miter, are rounded off, or if they have corner trim. In this case, the corner has been literally rounded, giving an otherwise very ordinary concrete block building a bit of visual appeal. It appears that a window used to be on the corner, but that has since been covered over.
Nearby the very industrial portions of the city are some of the older neighborhoods, and some of the newest houses. From the parking lot in front of the cement yard, beyond a broken foundation, there is a brand new house. Just past that house, in the same neighborhood as the container house I previously wrote about, much older buildings stand.
A construction site near the old railroad depot has these sculptures of bicycles embedded in concrete. There are similar sculptures on the UF campus. Bicycles are an important part of Gainesville life, and I like that they are part of Gainesville’s art as well.